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Alfonzo McKinnie's Journey from Off-the-Radar Into the Association
by Joe Gabriele Beat Writer

No Shortcuts

Alfonzo McKinnie's Journey from Off-the-Radar Into the Association

Nobody’s journey to the NBA is easy. With only about 450 humans able to claim membership at any given time, it’s an exclusive club.

But some players’ route is more circuitous than others. Darius Garland played in just five college games before becoming the No. 5 overall pick in 2019. Ante Zizic and Cedi Osman have been playing competitive international ball since their mid-teens. Guys like Larry Nance Jr. and Dylan Windler were four-year guys at their respective schools.

And then there’s the case of Cavaliers reserve Alfonzo McKinnie, who tore his meniscus twice and had it removed and didn’t do a single pre-Draft workout for any team. He played one season in Luxembourg and another in Mexico.

Last year, he was a rotational player for a Warriors team that reached its fifth straight Finals. And this year, he’s working his way into the rotation with the Wine & Gold.

The journey from his early Chicago days, overseas and south of the border to this weekend’s road trip with Cleveland hasn’t been an easy one.

”I tell guys all the time: ‘This is sweet, right? Getting drafted and just being in the United States,’” smiled the 27-year-old swingman. “I think I had been out the country one time and that was to the Bahamas with my college team.”

McKinnie played just two years of high school ball and was lightly-recruited after that. He averaged 10.2 ppg in his single season at Eastern Illinois before transferring to Wisconsin-Green Bay, averaging 7.1 points and 5.1 boards in 96 games with the Phoenix.

After going undrafted in 2015, McKinnie signed with the East Side Pirates in Luxembourg’s semi-professional league, averaging over 26.0 points in his first season overseas.

McKinnie signed with the Cavaliers just as Training Camp was wrapping up this past fall.
Photo: David Liam Kyle/NBAE/Getty Images

The scoring came easy; assimilating to a new country did not.

”Overall, that first year was a grueling process for me – finding out about myself and finding out about me as a basketball player, because I had to develop both areas,” said McKinnie. “For me it was tough. I was a big family guy, I was always around people that I knew, who I was comfortable with. I went to college three hours away in Green Bay, but I was still with guys who I'd played with in high school ball. Now, I'm going all the way to Luxembourg, a country that I'd never even heard of.

”It was completely different coaching. I was the only American on my team. It was a big culture shock for me.”

After a season in Luxembourg, an old friend suggested that he try something a little closer to the States. And within days of finishing up with the Pirates, McKinnie was back in North America.

His season overseas wrapped up on a Wednesday; by that Friday, he was playing a back-to-back for Rayos de Hermosillo – taking his new squad to the Circuito de Baloncesto de la Costa del Pacífico finals and finishing one win short of the title.

Still, he maintained focus on his dream.

”The NBA was always the main goal, but at the end of the day, I was just being realistic, and coming out of college, I knew I wouldn't jump straight to the NBA,” said McKinnie. “It was something that I always wanted to do, but at the time I didn't really know how it was gonna happen.

”Now, I just look back on that time and take certain lessons from it. It helped me grow, mentally. It helped me grow as a man.”

Back home after his season with Rayos de Hermosillo, McKinnie paid $175 for a tryout with his hometown Windy City Bulls – Chicago’s G-League affiliate. That fall, he made the squad – being named to the G-League All-Star team and participating in the Slam Dunk Contest.

"I tell guys coming out of college all the time: You don't know where the path goes or where the next turn's gonna come from, you just have to keep working and trust in the work that you put in."

Alfonzo McKinnie, on keeping his dream in focus

But after that year, he was back looking for an in-road to the Association.

”In my opinion, I finished the year as one of the best players – and it got me some looks from NBA teams, because once I finished with my G-League season, I had all these mini-camps, maybe, like, eight of them,” McKinnie recalled. “That whole summer was straight work, work, work every single day, going to all these different camps, flying all over. I didn't do pre-Draft workouts coming out of college, so I treated these like my pre-Drafts.”

In his last workout that summer, he impressed the Toronto Raptors – who signed him for their G-League squad, Raptors 905, in 2017-18. He would eventually spend some time with the parent club (playing in 14 contests) but credits his time in the G-League with Coach Jerry Stackhouse for his eventual leap to the pros.

”Me, coming in, transitioning from basically playing the 4, sometimes even the 5, in the G-League and then transforming into 3-and-D guy in the NBA, I give a lot of credit to Coach Stackhouse, because he taught me a lot about how to guard the win and defensive principles,” McKinnie said. “So spending time with him in the G-League was beneficial because when I did come up, I was guarding wing guys.

”And that’s been my primarily role in the NBA.”

That was McKinnie’s role with the Warriors last year. Early last season, McKinnie posted his first career double-double, notching 19 points and 10 boards against the team he grew up rooting for. Overall, he saw action in 72 contests for Golden State, not to mention all 22 Playoff games.

McKinnie has had to work for every inch along the way – and he appreciates every moment at the next level.

Coach Beilein says he’ll see some action this weekend. From there, who knows where the opportunity will take him – only that he won’t squander it when it comes.

”I tell guys coming out of college all the time: You don't know where the path goes or where the next turn's gonna come from, you just have to keep working and trust in the work that you put in,” said Cleveland’s high-flying swingman. “Whether or not I wound up back in the NBA or overseas, I knew that I had put in so much work that something had to come out of it.”


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